Belize Bans Offshore Seismic, Sends Message to the U.S. Atlantic


Earlier this month Belize declared an official ban on oil exploration and drilling in areas along the Belize Barrier Reef System and in seven World Heritage Sites. Hooray!

Caye Caulker located in the world heritage Belize Barrier Reef. Credit: F. Ermert, Flickr

If you do a google search for 25 things you don't know about Belize, like I did, you'll learn that the country's national motto is "Under the shade we flourish." The saying is a shortened version of "Under the shade of the mahogany tree we flourish," and it dates back to when the mahogany trade was the backbone of the country's economy. You'll also learn that tourism is Belize's primary source of revenue, and that according to Belize mythology a small dwarf with no thumbs named Tata Duende lives in the rainforest and challenges those who try to harm wildlife.

For me, these fun facts tell a larger story. They paint a picture of a place that, despite its struggles to do so, has a deeply rooted appreciation of the linkage between its natural wonders and its economic vitality. By banning offshore seismic surveys and oil drilling, Belize is taking a huge step towards protecting its economy as well as its ocean, reef, fish, and marine mammals.

Let's follow Belize. I want to believe that we, too, value our wild ocean and its wonders. Let's show that to the world and permanently remove the Atlantic from all future oil and gas exploration and development.

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Deepwater Horizon oil spill slick. Credit: NOAA

Offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous. The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico shocked the world. I flew during that time, and from my window seat on Southwest, I witnessed the monstrous oil slick from the sky. Yet the oil industry continues to push for expanded exploration and the Obama Administration is marching towards opening the Atlantic to seismic airgun surveys and drilling.

Marine mammals, like the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, rely on acoustic cues to locate food, communicate with their calves, find a mate, and navigate hazards. Seismic surveys threaten their very survival. They disrupt endangered sea turtles and displace important commercial fisheries species as well.

Our wild places and marine animals need a Tata Duende of the USA. The Atlantic hasn't been open to oil drilling for over 30 years. Let's keep it that way. As almost 90 towns, cities, and counties that passed resolutions opposing or voicing concern about Atlantic exploration and production have already recognized: with a vibrant, oil-free Atlantic coast we all flourish.

This blog was written together with NRDC intern Caitlin Soden.